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The Cheese-ing of America

  • s

Is there anywhere else in the world where cheese is so often put into or melted on top of their food, like we see now in America?

It started with fast food burgers. Used to be you had to ask for cheese, in which case you paid extra. Now, they automatically charge you for the cheese, and you have to ask them NOT put on the cheese. (they will charge less, by the way, but you may have to point this out).

Within the last decade, foods like risotto and shrimp n' grits have appeared on numerous menus, not limited to just high-end Italian or faux-Southern places. But just try to find either one without cheese, as if it were an essential ingredient. Hardly.

Melting cheese on shrimp, inside sandwiches, in sauces, has come to mean 'fancier' food for some people. And in the effort to make their menus into something you might not do at home, it is an extra high-caloric step that is easy for restaurants to do to impress their customers.

Unfortunately, it is making it hard for me to find dishes that I love made without the cheese.

Not that I don't like cheese, but I don't need it inside or on top of everything... if you know what I mean.

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  1. I've seen steaks that were covered with cheese. It's disgusting.

    1. This is not a problem in my neck of the woods. And if I don't want cheese on my Quarterpounder, I simply tell them so. No big deal.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Perilagu Khan

        Yes, I tell them to leave off the cheese AND charge me less. Not a problem. But if a restaurant is relying on cheese to flavor their shrimp n' grits, I'd think they might have to completely change the recipe. Like how people complain that their Thai food is too sweet if they order it mild.

      2. Looks like everybody's gonna be bound up!

        1. I've never had risotto in Italy or Shrimp and Grits in the south that didn't contain cheese. Not huge amounts of cheese, but always some. I've also never seen a steak covered with cheese, except a Philly Cheese steak.

          4 Replies
          1. re: pikawicca

            steak with blue cheese - yummy.

            but yes too much cheese on too many products where it is not warranted

            1. re: pikawicca

              I've never seen S & G with cheese.


              1. re: Davwud

                Wait - I also have never seen Shrimp and Grits with cheese, and I've eaten a lot of Shrimp and Grits. Where are they putting cheese on S&G!?!??

                1. re: RosemaryHoney

                  Advance Search, Google the phrase "shrimp and grits" and add the word 'cheese' to "all these words."

            2. It's interesting you bring this up. Over the holidays my Dad was telling me how *in Wisconsin (!!)* when he was growing up in his middle class family, there wasn't the emphasis on cheese that there is now. He said it was considered kind of a lower form of protein, the emphasis was really on meat and fish in his area.

              I've also noticed what you're saying, the addition of cheese. I think it's a cheap way to make things more addictively attractive...that salt/fat combo is pretty yummy :)

              Perhaps it's gotten cheaper over the years too, so it's not cost prohibitive for restaurants TO add it.

              1. This reminds me of a review I wrote on TripAdvisor after a recent trip to Seattle:

                "Cheese, Cheese and More Cheese. And More Cheese. And Even More Cheese.

                Upon arrival in Seattle, we headed up to Capitol Hill to find a place for dinner. We walked along Broadway and saw a few promising restaurants, then stumbled across La Cocina Santiago (which is the proper name for this restaurant). It was PACKED. The whole front section was totally full. We thought that would be a good sign, so we checked out the menu. Both my friend and I have spent a lot of time in Mexico (about nine months between the two of us) and love Mexican food. We were psyched to see old favorites like chiles rellenos and tamales on the menu, so we went inside.

                We were quickly served baskets of warm, homemade tortilla chips and salsas (red and green). We ordered some sangria (it was good) and we each ordered a combination plate with a chile relleno and a burrito (my burrito was vegetarian, my friend's was chicken). The menu said they were served with rice and beans.

                What arrived on our plates was indescribable. Imagine that an industrial cheese factory exploded and somehow all the cheese ended up on one plate. That does not begin to describe the food we were served. Greasy, oily, runny, disgusting, gross cheddar cheese was half an inch thick covering our chiles, burritos and beans. Only the rice was safe. I have never seen that much cheese on one plate in my life, and that includes the time I went to the International Cheese Festival in Bra, Italy (sponsored by Slow Food). I am not joking. Both of us stared in horror at our plates, unsure of what to do. Were we on hidden camera? Apparently we were not, and we ended up scraping off what felt like a pound or two of cheese EACH. However, by that time the cheese had seeped into the food and permeated every last molecule. The food was borderline inedible and we left three quarters of our plates untouched (unless you count scraping off cheese).

                Unless you have some sort of weird cheese fetish, avoid this restaurant at all costs!"

                5 Replies
                1. re: Jetgirly

                  Hysterical !!! Thanks for sharing that.

                  1. re: Jetgirly

                    I did the same thing a few years ago, same place. Walking down Broadway in Seattle after a rain (Imagine that!) place had great atmosphere and had long neck buds for a buck. Three of those then ordered the combo plate, bad move. Way too much rubbery, oily cheddar cheese. My fault, broke my cardinal rule of only eating Mexican food in Mexico, So. Arizona, So. Cal & New Mexico. I do still enjoy trampling up and down Broadway though, in the future I think I'll just stick with the Thai and Pho joints.

                    1. re: mrbigshotno.1

                      Yuck. There are a lot of Mexican immigrants in our part of Iowa, and thus a lot (yay!) of little, family run restaurants, all serving some of the best (and most authentic) food I've had since traveling extensively through Mexico in the early 80's. NONE of this food--the carnitas, chilies rellenos, asada or al pastor tacos, etc.--comes with a surfeit of cheese. In fact, most come with just the the lightest sprinkling of that interesting dry cheese (not sure the name) which is sort of a cross between farmer cheese and romano (just what it reminds of us, that is...) or a little creamy, white queso fresco.

                      NONE of it has anything remotely approaching "plastic cheddar", thank god!

                      1. re: Beckyleach

                        Queso cotija is the dry white crumbly cheese, most likely.

                        1. re: EWSflash

                          Thanks! Now I know what to ask for in the markets. :-)

                  2. Here in Spokane, Washington, the Spokalocals take the cheese biz to a higher level...
                    Take a look and see what I mean...

                    1. Risotto without cheese isn't really risotto. It actually is kinda, well.....essential.

                      But I do agree that many chefs/restaurants do use cheese (like butter) as a crutch at times. It's an easy way to make virtually anything taste better.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: matt21sz

                        I am not sure 'taste better' is the right phrase. Veal cheeks with cheese on top, seafood with cheese on top, just about anything with cheese on top. Chefs are always looking for ways to make things 'fancier.' When items start to seem dead common on a menu, adding cheese becomes a menu inspiration.

                        Yeah, risotto is almost always with cheese, unless it has seafood. Then, no cheese.

                      2. Cheese is used like a condiment or sauce in this country, when in most other countries it is an ingredient.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: ttoommyy

                          So in a grilled cheese sandwich, is the cheese a condiment or a sauce?

                          1. re: small h

                            A sauce naturally. It melts and becomes runny.


                            1. re: Davwud

                              But so does butter! That would make butter a sauce. Yet I've always thought of it as a condiment. So confused.

                            2. re: small h

                              lol I was referring more to the glut of food out there that has an abundance of cheese on it that just shouldn't. Of course something like a grilled cheese doesn't fall into this category. :)

                            1. Frequently, restaurants give what customers want. Don't blame the restaurants. Americans love melted cheese and the hit of salt that it provides.

                              8 Replies
                              1. re: PBSF

                                Yes, but in the case of fast food, I bet there are plenty of people who would just as well save the money and get their burger without cheese, which is an unadvertised option. America's tastes are indeed changing, in the direction of adding cheese to everything.

                                1. re: Steve

                                  If there were a nascent anti-fromage hue and cry, you can bet some savvy entrepreneur would capitalize on it.

                                  1. re: Steve

                                    Always cheese on burgers must be a regional thing. On menus in the SF Bay Area,, there is always a plain burger without cheese; cheese and everything else is optional. I have not encountered a place that requires one to ordered "without the cheese"; even "IN and OUT" has a burger without cheese.

                                    1. re: PBSF

                                      Sacre bleu! No fromage?? Zut alors!

                                      Actually I think it's overdone too, and hardly anybody loves cheese more than me. We went to a Mexican restaurant one morning for breakfast we'd never been to before, and it was well-populated by locals, but I ordered huevos rancheros, and what I got was completely drowned by about a half-pound of molten cheddar. It was hard to find the eggs, and for gods sake I never did find the tortillas, except for maybe a little bit of resistance when I cut it with my fork, it was pretty gross, actually. Nobody would have DARED to slop on that much queso cotija, which is my preference.

                                      I really hope they didn't look out and see the gringa and pile on the cheddar.

                                      1. re: EWSflash

                                        "I really hope they didn't look out and see the gringa and pile on the cheddar."

                                        I often wonder about that too in places like that. Do they think we couldn't possibly want it the way it's supposed to be eaten...that they have to "Americanize" it?
                                        Side note: I feel like this happens to Americans in Italy also, so I always start off by asking for a menu in Italian. Sometimes the differences are quite interesting.

                                        1. re: ttoommyy

                                          That really only helps if you read Italian.

                                          I usually talk to them. Let them know I want the real deal.


                                          1. re: Davwud

                                            I can read an Italian menu and I don't read Italian. Cue the Twilight Zone music.

                                        2. re: EWSflash

                                          As a counterpoint, I had a couple of breakfast burritos yesterday morning and had to specify that I WANTED cheese on them.

                                  2. So it's not just me, then. I thought I was slowly but surely going insane - is there cheese on EVERYTHING these days? Don't get me wrong - I love cheese. On it's own, on a pizza, in moderation on stuff - but it's getting almost hard to find a main dish at a non-Asian restaurant that doesn't contain cheese. And recipes - good grief. Is there a cheeseless dip in popular circulation? Is there a baked pasta dish that isn't absolutely buried in cheese? Never mind cheese - but 3 cheese, 5 cheese. North America has gone mad with cheese. It needs to stop. Things that never needed cheese to begin with are now smothered in the stuff. Yes, risotto has cheese in it but really just as a condiment, not as the main protein. And try to find a main dish salad without cheese. Just try. Of course you can ask to to omit the cheese, but how many people do? No wonder obesity is rising - it's a cheese-driven epidemic.

                                    End of rant. Sorry. I couldn't help myself.

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: Nyleve

                                      <Is there a cheeseless dip in popular circulation?>

                                      Onion dip. Hummus. Salsa. I'm no fan of throwing cheese all over EVERYthing, but let's not get completely hyperbolic.

                                      1. re: small h


                                        And it seems baked pasta dishes, in the main, have almost always included cheese. If you don't want cheese on your pasta, just order pasta that doesn't spring from the oven.

                                        1. re: small h

                                          Ok fine, I take back some of the hyperbole. I think my rant is the result of a longstanding observation of overcheesiness in America. Point taken.